Who can forget the 2001 American Music Awards, when then-idyllic couple Justin Timberlake and Britney Spears took to the red carpet in matching Canadian tuxedos? Or the numerous times Posh and Becks sported nearly identical looks, from the purple ensembles worn at their wedding reception to completely leather Versace get-ups. Kim Kardashian and Kanye West coordinate their colors and cuts all the time. Even Will and Kate have been seen in a matching look or two.
Recently, rapper Iggy Azalea and boyfriend, L.A. Lakers player Nick Young, are the latest couple to capitalize on (and in ways, modernize) the longstanding tradition of celebrity couples dressing alike. In late June, the duo attended Capital Summertime Ball in London in a toned-down version of the Britney and Justin denim of years past—Azalea rocked a strapless, Herve Leger patchwork-style bandage dress, while Young sported coordinating distressed jeans with a simple black blazer and tee. The next day, the couple sat front row at the Calvin Klein show, once again looking a little matchy-matchy. It wasn’t as in-your-face as full leather suits or bright purple ensembles (Azalea was dressed almost entirely in white, while Young donned black pants with a plaid button-down), but the subtle coordinating pop of cobalt blue (her shoes, his blazer) accentuated the fact that they were, in all aspects of the word, together.
It’s hardly uncommon for couples to put their love on display through sartorial choices, be they celebrities or, well, us regular folks (who hasn’t tried to match a prom date’s tie or vest to a dress). Yes, we all love to roll our eyes when we see (seemingly) lovely-dovey couples suddenly start to dress alike…but do their matching clothes really mean their relationships are better than our own?
Apparently, they does. “People dress alike to alert the world that they are a couple and to communicate the strength of their commitment with greater specificity than wearing just an engagement ring or a wedding ring, which essentially could be from anyone else,” Columbia University professor and New York-based anxiety, sex, and relationship therapist Dr. Laurel Steinberg tells The Daily Beast. “In other words, [matching clothing] actually points to the person they’re coupling with. Additionally, the fact that a person is willing to go contrary to a social norm to publicize this and… probably encounter ridicule… communicates the further [romantic] dedication.” Couples who pick up on each other’s habits, Steinberg explains, are the ones who “will most likely endure, because they’re the people going the extra mile.” If they're willing to put in the time to work out their outfits together, their relationship may, in fact, be stronger.
In a way, selecting outfits that match (regardless of how subtle the coordinating pieces may be), is an alternate form of a public display of affection (PDA). While this practice may be subject of countless tabloid headlines and the punch line of relationship jokes in the U.S., it is a major trend in Asia.
“Brands like Calvin Klein, among others, have special lines that come with his and hers pieces,” Steinberg says. “It hasn’t caught on in America, rather, to the same extent as of yet… In Asia, it’s typically not socially acceptable for people to demonstrate PDA. And so, this matching trend—this look-a-like trend—gives people the feeling of closeness and their commitment.”
In February, WWD published a piece titled, “They Are Wearing: Seoul’s Matching Couples,” which shows a couple (wearing the same light-blue Kenzo sweatshirt) who claims they “dress the same every day.” Although matching looks may be seen in America as humor-worthy, in Asia, couples believe they are a romantic expression meant “to send a clear message to everyone else that they are off the market.”
Steinberg, whose practice is about 50 percent couples, admits that she sees more discussion of the subtleties of dressing alike (similar to Azalea and Young’s looks) with her patients, than the outrageous outfits of say, Victoria and David’s early years. “When two people are engaged in a project, I guess it does help the relationship, because they both have their eye on the prize in the same way… Even just looking at your partner, wearing that piece reinforces it to us visually, like ‘I’m in a relationship,’ ‘We are connected,’ and ‘We’re a real thing.’” So while those Calvin Klein his-and-her sets haven't exactly gone mainstream in America, color-coordinating certain aspects of of a look (whether done on purpose or subconsciously) certainly has.
But for every Kate and Will, Victoria and David, and yes, even Kim and Kanye (at least for the two or so years they've been together), there is a Britney and Justin of the world who, no matter how matchy-matchy they become, still aren’t able to make things work.
“For [matching] to be a really effective way to connect, both people have to be on the same page and really in the relationship in the same way,” Steinberg warns. “They also must be willing to share this with the world in the same way. If there’s a forced element or the pressure to conform, that can absolutely hurt the relationship. I would hate that pressure—to have to do something that I was uncomfortable with or that just felt not right. I think that would undermine the relationship and then would subsequently manifest in another way.”
So, can the Canadian tuxedo be blamed for the Britney-Justin love downfall? Timberlake himself counts the look as one of his biggest regrets.
“God, I feel I’ve gone to therapy just to erase some of them,” Timberlake said in an interview with Playboy regarding his poor outfit selections. “The cornrows I wore with ’N Sync. That was pretty bad. Britney [Spears] and I wore matching denim outfits [to the 2001 American Music Awards]. Yeah, another bad choice. I’d probably pay good money to get some of those pictures off the Internet.”
Clearly, it wasn’t his idea. And if I were forced into wearing that look, I wouldn’t expect anything less than my relationship blowing up in flames.